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The author exploring Spotorno in Liguria. Photo by Joan Erakit

How to Break Your African Parents’ Hearts

On life as a writer.

By the time you finish reading this essay, my father will have called me at least four times in 10 minutes and my mother will have sent me one of her guilt-tripping texts, demanding to know why I wrote this article. I will likely ignore all calls and texts until I can muster up the courage to face the two people I love the most.

I suffer from the same struggle as any other diaspora living son or daughter: the need to find your calling versus the need to satisfy your parents.

I grew up between Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Swaziland before moving to America, all the while reading The National Geographic and one day hoping to work there (I eventually did) and be one of the first black anthropologists to use research, photography and writing to showcase the voices of Africans outside the village (this never happened). My father grew up with a wanderlust like no other, often moving his family around in search of better opportunities and a better life—because of this, I wanted to write about the places my parents took us during the summer holiday, the conversations about conservation that happened between community organizers and teachers, and the way my mom and aunties created gardens in their city backyards to promote healthy eating and mindfulness. I wanted to be the one to show and tell, and not be the one shown.

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